It's important to communicate your needs and views at work but many people find this difficult because they may come across as either too passive or aggressive. The consequences of this poor communication can increase stress levels. In this article we explore assertiveness, with a focus on "saying no".
Assertiveness is when you confidently express your needs and opinions in a fair, honest and calm way whilst considering the needs and views of other people. It’s an important skill that reduces stress because it allows you to:
There are three different types of communication styles:
|Not saying what you think||Expressing yourself clearly and confidently||Shouting, aggression|
|Scared to speak up, others attack you||Speaks openly and honestly||Interrupts or talks over others, attacking|
|Avoids eye contact||Maintains eye contact||Stares, looks judgmentally|
|Speaks softly||Speaks firmly and at conversational level||Speaks loudly|
|Reduces your self-esteem||Increases your self-esteem||Reduces others’ self-esteem|
|Believing that your own needs don’t matter||Believing that everyone’s needs are important||Believing that your needs are the most important|
|Unable to say "no" - you feel guilty if you do||Says no in an appropriate fashion||Says no in an angry and reactive way|
|Makes body smaller e.g. slouches||Relaxed and welcoming posture||Closed posture, makes body bigger, invades personal space|
A colleague approaches you and asks if you can attend a meeting in their place because they’ve double-booked themselves but you have a list of work you need to urgently get through that day.
An aggressive person: "Absolutely not. You always do this! You need to learn to manage your own workload rather than bothering me!"
A passive person: "Yeah of course I will."
An assertive person: "Unfortunately I can’t attend the meeting because I’ve got lots of work to get through today, perhaps there’s someone else you can ask."
Many employees struggle to say no when they are given additional tasks because we like to please and be seen as capable. But if you have too many demands and no more capacity available you should say no.
Try not to feel guilty because it means that someone else can dedicate the right amount of time and attention to the task. Assertiveness can be used in a variety of ways to confidently and reasonably say "no".
As you grow up your experiences teach you that you can't always decline requests. You may end up with unhelpful beliefs about saying "no" which increase the difficulty of you saying it. For example, you may think that saying "no":
Consider these beliefs if you've noticed you experience any unhelpful ones holding you back from declining requests:
The Art of Saying No: Kenny Nguyen at TEDxLSU
Noted entrepreneur and presentation expert Kenny Nguyen passionately speaks about the power inherent in saying "no." The CEO of Big Fish Presentations, Kenny speaks about how "no" has affected him personally and professionally, but more importantly, how it can prepare one for the perfect time to say yes.
The psychologist Trevor Powell describes six ways of saying no - you choose which one to use depending on the situation:
When you’re asked to do something you don’t want to do or you can’t do you just say "no" e.g. "I can’t do that." The aim is to say "no" without feeling that you have to apologize. It’s the other person’s responsibility so don’t feel like you have to take responsibility for it.
This is when you acknowledge the content and sentiments of the request and then assertively refuse at the end.
This is where you provide a brief but honest reason for your answer.
This is not an absolute "no" - it’s a way of saying no to the request currently but means you can say yes in the future. You should only use this if you want to genuinely meet the request.
This is again not an absolute "no". In this technique you open up the request to see if there is an alternative.
If the person initially does not accept your "No", then keep repeating yourself. It can be used in a wide range of situations and it is especially useful for persistent requests.
Remember that you have the right to voice your opinions and if you really struggle to say "no" it’s likely that you’re overestimating the difficulty the other person will have in accepting your refusal.